StudyTree’s Roots Reach Silicon Valley
After a trip to San Francisco and a victory in the Microsoft Imagine Cup, the team behind the tutoring app looks back on a hectic year and prepares for what’s next.
May 5, 2015
by Zach Epstein
It’s been quite a year for the team at StudyTree, the mobile app that matches students with peer tutors for on-demand tutoring sessions. First came their presentation at the Incubator Competition during Drexel Startup Day, which netted them a spot in the Baiada Institute. Now, not only is StudyTree a finalist in the Baiada Institute’s Business Plan Competition, they’re fresh off a victory at the Microsoft Imagine Cup, an international student technology competition with entrants from over 200 countries around the world.
We caught up with the minds behind StudyTree — Ethan Keiser, Robyn Freedman and Phuoc Phan — to talk about their Imagine Cup pitch, what’s next for StudyTree and how they’ve developed as entrepreneurs during their time at Drexel.
Congratulations on winning first place in the Microsoft Imagine Cup’s U.S. Innovation category. What led to this point, where you’re now moving on to the World Semi-Finals?
Ethan: Our team found out about the Imagine Cup competition from Microsoft Tech Evangelist David Voyles. A committee of Microsoft judges selected four national finalists to compete in San Francisco. We flew out on April 17 and began preparing our pitch. When we arrived, we were blown away by all the awesome student startups we were competing against. Everyone was a genius; everyone had charisma and an attractive personality. We knew that our pitch would have to be perfect in order to win.
After your presentation, how’d you feel? Did you think you had a good shot to win your category and move on?
Phuoc: The questions during the presentation were tough, but I knew we did a good job on them. I felt confident in our presentation, and had high hopes about winning our category.
Robyn: After the presentation, I was the most excited to see what our family, friends, fellow Imagine Cup participants and Drexel family thought of our presentation. Our team put everything we had into preparing for those 10 short minutes, so receiving feedback and seeing the unbelievable support on social media was very rewarding. I knew we had a good shot at winning because we had done so much preparation, and I'm a firm believer in hard work paying off.
What's the next step in the competition?
Ethan: Since we became the Imagine Cup U.S. Champions, many opportunities have been presented. A committee of Microsoft judges will pick the top three national winners from all over the world to compete in the World Finals. If we are selected, we will be flown to Seattle to pitch in front of the CEO of Microsoft and given a chance to meet Bill Gates. The World Finals are watched by 30,000 people with a grand prize of $50,000. We are optimistic about going to the World Finals and we thank all of our users for loving StudyTree.
What’s in store for StudyTree over the next few months?
Robyn: We're very excited to make a couple of big announcements soon. In the meantime, we're happy to announce that an update is now out for Drexel students to download. We think the updated features and an easier-to-understand interface will be enjoyable for students. The third-party payment system is now ready, so send our website to your parents to have them add funds to your account!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about running a startup so far?
Ethan: I learned that the best way to improve is to surround yourself with like-minded individuals who share the same vision. I was pleased to learn that there is a culture of entrepreneurship in Philadelphia.
From the Incubator Competition, to launching the app, and now the Imagine Cup: what’s this whole period been like?
Robyn: The past nine months have been an amazing learning and growing experience for our entire team. Propelling StudyTree to evolve — from a concept to an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to what's now a scalable business — hasn't been easy, but it's been a lot of fun. Our business model has changed and our understanding of our customer has improved, which has enabled us to update our product. When you learn about entrepreneurship, everyone says the project becomes your life and in nine months we learned that it couldn't be any more true.
Does anything stand out from your time at Drexel that you’d want to share with other entrepreneurs?
Phuoc: Drexel did a great job at creating the perfect environment for entrepreneurship to flourish. Right after coming here as a transfer student, I was immediately impressed by the work being done by the students at Drexel. This environment helped give me a big push in starting to work on our own project. But the most important moment in entrepreneurship for me is when I took my first class in the Close School with Chuck Sacco (Ready, Set, Fail). The class not only provided me with valuable knowledge in the field, but also helped me once again delve deeper into the entrepreneur field.
Ethan: Drexel has many resources to help students develop their concepts into sustainable businesses. The biggest mistake any entrepreneur can make is keeping their idea to themselves. Get your idea out there and bounce it off experienced entrepreneurs.